Vegas Goes Big

This favorite meetings mecca continues to reinvent itself

Las Vegas Convention Center expansion

(Pictured) A vision of the long-awaited expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center has been unveiled

Given all of the recent and upcoming development projects, you could be forgiven for thinking that the big news in Las Vegas these days is all about the convention attendee.

After all, in the last couple of months, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has announced a design for its massive, $1.4 billion expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which will grow to 4.6 million square feet. Caesars Entertainment raised the curtain on a $375 million convention center project that will bring a 550,000-square-foot facility to the center of the Strip.

And hot on the heels of its own major expansion of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, MGM Resorts International has announced plans to build a dedicated facility, the Esports Arena Las Vegas, at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, for the rapidly growing professional video gaming industry. That will by necessity bring with it cutting-edge internet infrastructure -- the top league's finale this year was reportedly watched by more than 46 million enthusiasts via livestreaming video.

And, oh yeah, there's that $1.9 billion football stadium going up less than a mile and a half from the Strip for the team currently known as the Oakland Raiders, which will become the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020. The groundbreaking took place in November.

Still, there's a lot of news coming from the resorts on the Strip. Steve Wynn finally announced plans to build a 1,500-room hotel tower on what used to be the Wynn Las Vegas' golf course. The hotel will be next to a man-made lake so large it will have an island in the center. Caesars Entertainment is halfway through an enormous project that will see all 23,000 of its Las Vegas hotel rooms completely renovated. MGM Resorts is turning the Monte Carlo Las Vegas Resort and Casino into two new, more upscale hotels, while 1,700 of the 4,405 rooms in the iconic, pyramid-shaped Luxor are being renovated. And though details are slim, there does seem to be work starting on the gigantic but much-delayed Asian-themed Resorts World Las Vegas development.

Then there's sports. While the Strip has long played host to some of the biggest boxing matches in the world -- lately joined by Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts --the Raiders will be something of a Johnny-come-lately when they finally arrive a few years from now. In October, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, an NHL expansion team, took to their home ice at MGM Resorts' T-Mobile Arena for the first time.

Later this year, the Golden Knights will be joined at T-Mobile by the Las Vegas Aces, a WNBA franchise formerly known as the San Antonio Stars. MGM bought the team outright to bring women's pro basketball to Las Vegas. In what is unlikely to be a coincidence, the team brings with it a strong head coach with star power of his own: NBA great Bill Laimbeer, a two-time champion and four-time All-Star. As a Women's NBA coach, the 6-foot, 11-inch former center has three championships and has twice been named Coach of the Year.

Bigger and Newer Is Better
When it comes to new properties, the biggest is Steve Wynn's much-anticipated plan to turn the Wynn Las Vegas golf course into Paradise Park, a development featuring a new 1,500-room hotel tower fronting on a huge lagoon. The man-made lake will reportedly be surrounded by beaches, shopping, and dining venues, as well as carnival-style entertainment ranging from water sports, zip lines, and fireworks, to a nightly water parade of edgy floats, and a bumper car ride where players are chased by "police" bumper cars.

Then there's billionaire investor Carl Icahn's $600 million sale of the unfinished Fountainbleau casino resort building, which has sat unfinished since a 2009 bankruptcy, to a pair of real estate development and investment firms led by New York--based Witkoff. The tallest habitable building in Las Vegas (but second in height to the Stratosphere Tower), it is "ideally located on the Las Vegas Strip, directly across from the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is in the midst of a $1.4 billion expansion and renovation," said Steve Witkoff, chairman and CEO of Witkoff, in a statement this summer. "We acquired a well-designed, structurally sound, integrated resort at a significant discount. It is one of the best physical assets in the country, which is one of the reasons we were attracted to it."

Work is proceeding apace at the Park MGM and its luxury hotel-within-a-hotel, NoMad, as part of the $450 million reimagining of the Monte Carlo. Other recent renovations include the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with a $100 million renovation of all 2,496 rooms and suites. It is the first of the Caesars Entertainment properties to finish its room renovations. The Company's flagship, Caesars Palace, also finished a $100 million renovation of its Palace Tower rooms. And work is ongoing at the Flamingo Las Vegas on slightly more than one third of its 3,500 rooms. The property wrapped a renovation of its 73,000 square feet of meeting and event space this past summer.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has begun a project to renovate nearly all of its 3,027 rooms, while the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has rolled out a renovation of 640 rooms and suites. Work is also proceeding on a $146 million renovation project at the Palms Casino Resort, which was recently purchased by Station Casinos.

Designed for groups of up to 5,000, the Park MGM's 77,000-square-foot meeting facilities spread over 43 meeting rooms are aimed squarely at smaller groups, with a conference-center-style Executive Meeting Center and Ideation Labs aimed at high-level brainstorming. The facility also offers a 4,345-square-foot terrace and is part of MGM Resorts' Stay Well program.

STAY - South Point Hotel & Casino
Groups looking for a bit of solitude and quiet while they work, without giving up easy access to the dining, entertainment, and other attractions of the Strip, can look 10 to 15 minutes down Las Vegas Boulevard to South Point. It has 2,080 guest rooms, a 75,000-square-foot conference center, and an 80,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall.
DINE - Momofuku
Asian fusion is in the air at The Cosmopolitan, where New York--based chef and restaurateur David Chang has opened his western U.S. outpost of the highly regarded Momofuku, with desserts served up from the Milk Bar -- one of several Momofuku offshoots that Chang has developed to raves in New York City.

Unconventional Conventions
The biggest convention center news is, of course, the selection of a design team for phase two of the Las Vegas Convention Center's (LVCC) 1.4 million-square-foot expansion, which will include at least 600,000 square feet of new exhibit space. When finished, the LVCC will be 4.6 million square feet, with 1.9 million square feet of exhibit space. In addition, the expansion will bring the facility's front door right onto the Strip, a big advantage in terms of prestige as well as logistics.

"We are excited to move forward with tvsdesign/Design Las Vegas to create an iconic design for the Las Vegas Convention Center that represents the incredible destination that Las Vegas is," says Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA. "We are eager to get started on the project to provide our clients with a great new facility and our community with a tremendous economic impact."

Caesars' $375 million, 550,000-square-foot conference center sits behind the LINQ Promenade, where it will have direct connections to that outdoor dining and entertainment space, as well as the LINQ Hotel & Casino, Harrah's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, and the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.

Named Caesars Forum, it will have 300,000 square feet of flexible meeting and convention space, including a pair of 108,000-square-foot ballrooms that the company says are the largest pillarless ballrooms in North America. There will also be two 40,000-square-foot pillarless ballrooms, state-of-the-art boardrooms, and a 100,000-square-foot outdoor event plaza. All told, the conference space will support groups of at least 10,000 attendees.

"Building the two largest ballrooms in the world demonstrates our continued commitment to the meetings industry," says Michael Massari, chief sales officer of Caesars Entertainment. "We are excited to provide our customers with a new experience and look forward to building relationships with future clients."

The Forum will have state-of-the-art technology and be designed with flexibility in mind, Massari adds, calling it "key to meet the varied needs of our customers. We can host 10 conferences with over 2,000 attendees, and each and every one can be completely different. That's what makes our industry so interesting."

The outdoor plaza is being created as part of the project that will host opening cocktail receptions, wellness breaks, breakfasts, lunches, or dinners. In this, it is part of a growing trend -- which Caesars began on a large scale at The LINQ Promenade -- to bring groups and regular Las Vegas visitors out of the resorts. MGM's The Park is an example, as is the large plaza outside of the T-Mobile Arena. By far the largest example will be the Wynn's Paradise Park lagoon and beach development.

As for Caesars Forum, Massari says the plaza will be a great area where planners can create unique events. The weather in Las Vegas is good most of the year and we don't do enough outdoors. I envision a company looking at the forecast and deciding to move the next day's general session outdoors without a hitch."

While MGM Resorts' Esports Arena Las Vegas is a dedicated facility, the leagues' events have production values the entire meetings and events industry "could learn from," says Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International. "Esports are very different. It is a huge and growing segment," he says, noting that with tens of millions of livestreaming viewers for the biggest international matches, "the technology capabilities they need are huge."

Nor is the Esports Arena Las Vegas the only place MGM Resorts is turning its technology infrastructure up to 11. In November, the company announced that it had dramatically upgraded both the speed and capacity of the Wi-Fi networks throughout all of its meetings facilities (except Circus Circus). Working with Cisco Systems, the infrastructure is so robust that Cisco trusted it with its Cisco Live show for some 30,000 IT professionals at Bellagio, MGM Grand, and Mandalay Bay, rather than building out its own bandwidth. "They never did that before," Dominguez says. "We are ahead of the curve."

Work is also underway at the MGM Grand Conference Center on a quarter-million-square-foot expansion that will increase its size to 850,000 square feet and expand the size of its Stay Well Meetings section of the facility by 22,000 square feet. That is scheduled to wrap this year. And ARIA Convention Center is adding 200,000 square feet in a project scheduled to finish up shortly.

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This article appears in the January 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.

A quarter century ago, Wolfgang Puck opened an outpost of his flagship fine-dining restaurant, Spago, at the Forum Shops at Caesars, launching what would turn into an armada of restaurants from many of the top chefs in the world. Since then, Las Vegas has become an epicenter of great cuisine in America, with offerings ranging from Emeril Lagasse's very casual Lagasse's Stadium to the very upscale Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand.

Now Spago is moving from its home next to the entrance to the Colosseum theater to MGM Resorts' AAA Five Diamond Bellagio, where the main dining room's floor-to-ceiling windows will overlook the world-famous fountains, as will the patio that MGM promises will be the "most coveted" venue in the house. It's not just a change of address, however. The world-famous chef and restaurateur is reimagining Spago with a sleek look and feel. The menu will keep signature dishes like the salmon caviar pizza, as well as market-driven cuisine and a West Coast--inspired California Tasting Menu.

Caesars Palace is adding a new restaurant by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis -- a casual, quick-service eatery called Pronto, across the Strip from her very popular and incredibly good first establishment, GIADA, at The Cromwell. "I like that we can reach a lot of people in a short amount of time and provide plenty of healthy options," De Laurentiis said at the announcement. "I'm happy there will be a way for people to taste my food without the price tag of fine dining."

Caesars Palace will also welcome a new concept by Michelin-starred celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, named for and inspired by his long-running hit TV show, Hell's Kitchen. The nearly 300-seat restaurant, described as "fiery," is expected to open this winter.

The Cosmopolitan has recently welcomed the West Coast outpost of Momofuku from New York--based chef and restaurateur David Chang. Besides its creative twists on Asian classics, the eatery also serves up desserts at the counter of Milk Bar -- another of Chang's beloved New York outlets.

Another recent addition to The Cosmopolitan's dining options is Zuma, an elegant and modern Japanese eatery that serves up dishes family style. And that's in addition to Chef José Andrés' Mexican/Chinese fusion restaurant, one of three restaurants the renowned Spanish chef has at The Cosmopolitan.

-- Leo Jakobson


Swimming pools have been symbols of power and excess going all the way back to the days of the Roman emperors and even the Greek conquerors who preceded them. If there is one destination in the world that is keeping that tradition of over-the-top aquatic luxury alive, it is Las Vegas. Here's a look at six pool experiences that are not to be missed.


Black Jack bar at the Hard Rock
Black Jack bar at the Hard Rock

The Party Never Stops
The Hard Rock Resort holds the distinction of bringing Spring Break to Sin City. The party started when the property debuted Rehab in 2003, and it hasn't stopped for 15 years. The daytime bash is now held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Hard Rock's tropical pool grounds, which are surrounded by palm trees, sand, snaking lagoons, and waterfalls. But the hotel isn't all geared to party animals. The Nirvana pool is a quieter alternative for groups looking for a less manic experience. The Rehab grounds also host Friday Night Live outdoor shows with top rock acts.

Still Water Runs Deep

Everyone crowds around on the Strip to gaze in wonder at the magnificent fountains shooting water 20 stories into the air at the Bellagio, but groups lucky enough to be meeting there have something just as unique to enjoy -- water sitting still in an elegant setting. The property offers five pools surrounded by an elegant garden landscape that seems as if it was transported from somewhere in Mediterranean. Groups requiring extra privacy should check out the Cypress Pool, which is set apart from the rest of the facility and is ideal for an upscale reception.

The Perfect Opener and Closer

The 54,000-square-foot Wet Republic at the MGM Grand is all about partying hard with a few thousand of your closest friends. And isn't that what your attendees are when they're at your meeting? It's perfect for a large opening-night party to kick off an event or a closing night bash to send everyone home knowing that they had a good time. 

Serenity Eight Stories High

The eighth-floor pool deck at the Mandarin Oriental is smaller than many of its Strip neighbor's but more sophisticated. The service is stellar here; that means attendants who pass by every hour with complimentary snacks like frozen fruit or mini smoothies, and cabanas stocked with nonalcoholic beverages, fresh fruit, sunscreen, and magazines. It's a perfect spot for attendees to decompress after the day's sessions -- as well as being a relaxing venue for an intimate reception.

Seven Pools of Wisdom

How can you not mention Caesars when it comes to over-the-top pool experiences? The resort wasn't the first on the Strip to have a pool, but it was the first to turn it into something more than just a rectangular hole in the ground with a diving board. Caesars Palace has seven pools and they're all part of the resort's Garden of the Gods, an epic sprawl of a layout that transports groups back to ancient Rome with stately columns and statues, an area that's divided into smaller pockets, each offering a slightly different experience.

What, No Kitchen Sink?

If attendees can't find something to do at Mandalay Bay Beach, then they're just trying to not have a good time. It's got just about everything: wave pool, sandy beach, lazy river, and poolside casino. There's even an adults-only, top-optional section for those who want a "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" experience. After dark, the Beach plays host to outdoor concerts and is, of course, available for corporate events.

-- Vincent Alonzo